After a week full of adversity and uncertainty regarding unfortunate COVID-19 news, the Browns D-Line room needed to rely on everyone to make it through Monday against the Raiders.
The group was already without Pro Bowl DE Jadeveon Clowney and DT Malik McDowell, two key pieces on the defensive front who were among the 19 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the game. Yet the other big men who stepped up still managed to sack Raiders QB Derek Carr and hold an active Las Vegas run game to 98 total yards (3.9 yards per carry).
The 16-14 loss made it hard for the group to feel good about any of that work, but 10-year veteran DT Malik Jackson was proud of how everyone was ready after a week full of difficult news.
"It was super crazy not knowing if we were going to play or not," Jackson said Wednesday on a Zoom call. "But I think that's what football is. That's why you have a team with a bunch of guys that are ready to get going and prove themselves."
Among those guys were fourth-round rookie DT Tommy Togiai, who recorded his first career sack — albeit a half-sack — when he teamed up with DE Joe Jackson to tackle Carr. Jackson was called up from the practice squad as a COVID-19 replacement and was also another example of a backup player being ready to contribute.
The D-Line as a whole was responsible for 1.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery. That's an impressive line for a group that started the game down two key players and suffered injuries to two others — DE Myles Garrett suffered a groin injury but finished the game, while DE Takkarist McKinley exited in the second half with a torn Achilles, which unfortunately ended his season.
"It's very unfortunate what happened," Jackson said about McKinley. "He's very caring and always gives his all, so for somebody like him to go out there, fight through so much and give it their all and go out like that, it sucks.
"But this is the next-man-up mentality. We all play hard, and this is a physical game. It's very demanding, and if guys feel like they can't go, then it's the next guy up."
The Browns are hoping to see progress this week from Garrett, whom the Browns listed on the injury report Tuesday as someone who wouldn't have practiced, even though the team did not practice with players having the day off. They still don't know, either, if Clowney or McDowell will be able to be activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list before Saturday's game in Green Bay, which could open more opportunities for Joe Jackson, Porter Gustin and others who saw action against the Raiders.
It's certainly not the most ideal way to enter a week of preparation against QB Aaron Rodgers, who is still a nimble QB at 38 years old and is playing through a toe injury. Pressure from a defense is a necessity to stop Rodgers, and the Browns will have to find ways to bring it no matter who becomes available before Saturday's 4:30 p.m. kickoff from Lambeau Field.
"I think we've got guys who are biting at the chomps ready to get out here and show what they have," Jackson said. "I don't think we'll miss a beat."
The upbeat attitude from Jackson doesn't seem easy to emulate after a difficult past week, but it's the mentality everyone on the Browns needs as they continue their hunt for a playoff spot, which might only come with wins in the final three regular season games.
"It's our job," Jackson said. "It's what we have to do. We have very quick memories. It's one of those things where you have to go out there, forget what happened, understand the situation we're in and understand that we can't have any more mess-ups.
"That's it. Just live in the reality."